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2019 Global Dialogue: Registration Now Open!

I would like to invite you to join us for our 2019 Global Dialogue taking place Thursday, November 21 through Saturday, November 23 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Two items of special note:

First, Paul Polman, Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce and former CEO of Unilever, will be speaking to us over lunch on November 22 on the 25th anniversary of the founding of our Principles for Business.

Secondly, we will be awarding the first Dayton Award for Distinction in Business Service to Douglas M. Baker, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Ecolab, also during lunch on the 22nd.

Registration information can be found here.

I do hope you can join us.

Restraint and Moral Capitalism

A premise of our thinking about prospects for a moral capitalism is restraint on power – restraints suggested by the moral sense, restraints from market preferences and restraints from law. As in most things moral, personal character and good leadership values are indispensable drivers of responsible behaviors. Comfort with restraint is a disposition of character most conducive to moral outcomes.

Accordingly, restraint of market power is a necessary check and balance in the constitutional arrangement of capitalism. In the U.S., thinking more favorably about more rigorous enforcement of antitrust laws is on the rise.

From 1981 to 2017, antitrust cases filed by the U.S. Department of Justice decreased 61%, while mergers and acquisitions, a key means of consolidating private market power, increased by 750%.

I also just read of the drugmaker AbbVie buying its rival Allergan for $63 billion. As a business strategy of growth by merger, AbbVie had bought Pharmacyclics for $21 billion in 2015 and Stemcentrx for $10 billion a year later.

Previously, Bristol-Myers Squibb bought Celgene for $90 billion, Pfizer bought Array BioPharma for $11.4 billion and Eli Lilly bought Loxo Oncology for $8 billion. How is declining competition in drugs good for consumers?

In many industries, a handful of firms now dominate sales.

I have read several academic articles concluding that increased concentration explains recent trends in wage stagnation, rising economic inequality and sluggish productivity.

In step with 1980s economic theory that made a firm primarily responsible for making short-term profits for shareholders, thinking about having too much or too little market power gave priority to making money from consumers. If a merger had advantages for consumers and the market approved of its prospects for enhanced share value, it was held to be a good merger beyond the reach of antitrust laws.

Just as we are now moving on from the theory of the firm as a cooperative enterprise funded to make profits, we are on the cusp of moving away from the theory that bigger firms are better for society.

Why Might We Need Good Constitutional Orders?

This past Tuesday, September 17th, was Constitution Day here in the U.S. While I am hesitant as an American to write about my country in the abstract, the idea of a written constitution providing for citizen sovereignty, checks and balances and rights for individuals against the state has universal ethical implications.

Today, we see great commotions over these issues around our world: a test of an unwritten constitution in the U.K., the evolution of a constitutional order in the European Union as a federation, the unconstitutional order in Venezuela and autocracy in Turkey, theological supervision of the state in Iran, protests against the state apparatus in Hong Kong and Moscow and progressive American presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren suggesting that checks and balances are oppressive and should be abandoned or bypassed so that a majority can enjoy its will to power.

The points to contemplate, I suggest, are two: one is the purpose of a state as set forth in our Constitution. This is an ethical statement about the use of public power in trust. The preamble sets forth the legitimate business of government:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

(I am, I hope, not unduly immodest in these days of political discord in my country to acknowledge my pride that one of my mother’s forebearers, Gouverneur Morris, wrote these words.)

The legal form of the U.S. Constitution, I suggest, is a deed of trust. The sovereign people, acting through state conventions, entrust limited powers to a government for all of them. The powers are to be used in trust so the Constitution provided the text of an oath which qualifies a person to become president. That person must swear to rise above party, religion, self-interest and all personal prejudices in order that he or she may “faithfully execute the office” of president.

Constitutional government is one of office, not of will. Constitutional government rejects the will-to-power ethics of Herbert Spencer’s social Darwinism and of Nietzsche’s nihilism.

The reason for this constraint lies in keen and truthful conclusions about our human nature. In Federalist Paper No.55, written by James Madison, it holds that:

“As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be, that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.”

Economic Inequality Isn’t Unique to U.S.

I recently saw a report on real income growth in Russia. American capitalism is not alone in favoring the top over the middle and bottom of the socioeconomic order. In Russia, from 1989 to 2018, income for the top 1% grew 429% and for the top 10% by 171%, but for the bottom 50%, income shrank 20%.

Overall growth in income was 41%.

Political power everywhere is fungible with money and power. One breeds the other.

In Honor of Labor

Last Monday, September 2, marked the 125th anniversary of the adoption of Labor Day as a federal holiday in the U.S. The event was the culmination of the adoption of Labor Day, which had union backing, as an official holiday by 30 states. Today, Labor Day falls on the first Monday of September in both the U.S. and Canada.

Labor Day was perceived as a less radical alternative to May 1, which is International Workers Day in every other country in the world. Ironically, that date was chosen to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago on May 4, 1886.

On that day, several hundred workers demonstrated for the adoption of an eight-hour day. As darkness fell, Chicago police ordered the demonstrators to disperse. A bomb exploded, killing several police and demonstrators.

More demonstrators were shot or wounded by police fire. No one knows who planted the bomb or whether it had perhaps been the work of an agent provocateur trying to create a crisis. A number of labor leaders were arrested despite a lack of evidence that any had a hand in the bombing. Four leaders were hanged and others sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

The violence of the Haymarket affair seems to have summarized the 19th century understanding of industrial capitalism – capital on one side, labor on the other – with the state aligned with capital. Socialism, labor unions and later the welfare state or social democracy sought to level the playing field with a balance of economic power between the two essential factors of production.

But what if the conviction of a zero-sum conflict between capital and labor was a misunderstanding of economic reality? What if labor was too a capital asset, albeit a different kind of asset from money, plant or equipment? Then, the issue for owners and managers would have been how to get the optimum result from a partnership between capital and labor. That alternative is recommended by our Principles for Business.

On a related note, our colleague Richard Broderick composed a poem about Labor Day we wanted to share with you:

World of Our Fathers

The world of ill-fitting suits,
of baggy knees and elbows
and hand-me-down shoes.

The world of corns and bunions,
lame men, missing fingers.

The world of bad haircuts
and barber shop chatter,
nicks and cuts from straight-razors,
bay rum and styptic pencils.

The world of beer in cardboard buckets.

And the world of lunch buckets.

The world of stone fences,
brickyards and the foundry,
the rough and the thicket,
the six-day workweek
and the company picnic.

And the world of day trips
to the country where the sun
burned their pale skin,
and they gathered us like wild honey,
like the blackberries that wept
in the baskets beside them
on the train ride home.

Digital Currencies: A Moral Good?

The foundation of global financialization of capitalism in government created fiat currencies and bank credit may face disruption. Facebook seeks to use computers and the internet to provide private money.

The analogy comes to mind of “gold,” which was once the atlas supporting paper money and national credit. The modern administrative state has moved beyond gold to fiat currencies and central banking.

Facebook proposes to issue a digital currency called Libra. Facebook has 27 partners in this innovation in finance. Facebook will provide a government-free currency and a payment system through which to use it in the settlement of buy/sell transactions.

But the significant question is: how many Libras will be created?

The prudence associated with gold as support for money was that there was not so much of the ore available and more gold could not be made and disbursed on command by those prone to excessive consumption in the short run. If the amount of Libra in circulation can be gamed for short-term advantage, the currency will encourage boom/bust cycles and periodic collapses of financial markets as in the tulip mania, the South Sea Company, the Mississippi Company, 19th century bank crises in the U.S., one after another, the stock market crash of 1929, the dot-com bubble and the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008.

Government regulators, to date, are not opposed to the Libra. They just want it regulated in the public interest.

I have mixed feelings about the innovation. Competition with government fiat currencies may provide new opportunities for ordinary people to access goods and services or receive as wages. But the history of money and credit is one of many false hopes and manipulation of amounts in circulation contrary to the common good.